What is Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)?
Controlled environment agriculture grows crops within a closed environment to manage every aspect of the horticultural endeavor. The ability to control the climate maximizes efficiency, reduces disease and pests, and increases yield and profitability, lowering the cost of operation.
A controlled environment can consist of newly built facilities, repurposed structures, or protected outdoor structures. Controlled growing methods within each type of of these structures include, hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, and fogponics.
Indoor farming is precisely that; everything is entirely indoors. All lighting is artificial. Full-spectrum LED grow lights are used for the best possible growing results. These lights produce the light spectrum like the sun and can be controlled to turn off and on at specific times and what color combination will light. LED grow lights do not give off significant heat, so it is much easier to control the temperature inside the indoor growing facility.
Greenhouse farming utilizes a mostly glass or transparent plastic structure to allow the sun to shine through it.The greenhouse allows the plants to utilize the sun’s rays, but it also poses issues when no sun is shining. The heat that builds inside the greenhouse from the sun keeps the plants warm when the outside temperatures drop, but during the day, it can also overheat the plants and cause them to wilt and die and breed molds and fungi. A venting and cooling system is critical to having healthy plants.
With all the advancements in LED lighting, many greenhouse growers install LED full-spectrum lighting to meet the plant’s needs when the sun isn’t shining or the days are shorter. Installing artificial light will increase the productivity of the greenhouse.
Protected Crop Farming
Protected crop farming consists of plants growing outside like traditional farming, but they are enclosed or covered by canopies, hoop houses, or tunnel houses. Surrounding the plants allows the farmer to control the temperature and humidity levels.
With the advancements in LED lighting, farmers can install permanent or moveable LED lighting in or under the protected crop farms.
Four Different Types of Growing Methods
Hydroponics is probably the most used CEA method of farming. Hydroponic farming uses no soil but other mediums such as coconut fiber, rock wool, or sand. These optional mediums hold the plant in place and offer nourishment. Water and nutrients are applied manually or automated but are done in a controlled manner.
Aquaponics has fish in tanks and flushes their wastewater through tubes to water the plants providing the nutrients they need to grow. Aquaponics creates a self-sustaining ecosystem.
Aeroponics and Fogponics
Aeroponics and Fogponics both suspend the root systems of the plants in the air. Aeroponics mists the roots with nutrient-rich water, and fogponics fogs the roots with nutrient-rich fog. Both methods use less water than hydroponic farming.
Controlled Environment Agriculture
Controlled environment agriculture is evolving and improving. The advancements of LED full spectrum grow lights emulating the sun, the improvement of HVAC (heating and cooling systems), the reduction of pests and fungi, and the improvement of software and hardware to control all facets of the facility production have had a dramatic increase on the harvests.
Why would there be such an increase in the CEA market? The reason is simple, the demand for food has increased, and CEA is a consistent producer. When a grower can control all the aspects of growing, there is little guesswork. When a farmer grows, traditionally, the plants drown or are stunted if it rains too much. If the plants receive too much sun, they burn up and die, and with not enough sun, they may not reach maturity. Being able to control the entire horticulture experience optimizes the harvest and secures the financial outcome.